Postgraduate Researcher, DEV, University of East Anglia
5th September 2013. Mérida, Venezuela.
Haven’t written for three weeks for probably the best possible reasons: everything is going surprisingly to plan. After a fortnight in Merida I visited La Escuelita, the ‘alternative school’ in Barrio Pueblo Nuevo that was part of the reason for choosing the barrio in the first place. I explained my research at a staff meeting and offered to help out in any way I could. As hoped, there is a general desire for the story of life in the barrio to be known and it seems my study will support the work they are already doing, part of which is to change the stigma around the barrio in the mind-sets of both the town and the members of Pueblo Nuevo.
The school serves as a community hub, with adult and youth education running alongside community meetings, the local radio station and the local Barrio Adentro health clinic where Cuban, Venezuelan and even gringo doctors treat the local residents. The ethos is totally participative, and Paulo Friere seems to be a big influence. For those that know his influence on my thinking you can imagine how pleased I was to find that out. If you want to know more, the
following clip is how I learned about the school: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHG89aHxHIo
When I first saw this I would have been over the moon if I had thought I would actually be there in the midst of everything, meeting the staff and the residents and hopefully helping out in a small way.
For the last three weeks I have been helping a visiting Argentinian couple, Noelia and Juan-Manuel, run art and music workshops with under ten-year-olds. I have been getting covered in paint, learning dominos and acting out impromptu stories and generally having amazing fun. I have to admit I was pretty nervous at first, not having worked with such young people for a while. It has really made me realise the limits of my Spanish but thankfully I haven’t dropped a baby or anything so far. The workshops have been non-stop full of love and dinosaurs and witches and there were tears last night as Noelia and Juan said goodbye at the end of their stay. I’m going to miss them massively.
Another stand out day, and my favourite in Venezuela so far, was helping (slash hindering) Fransico, Hiraldo and Joshua clear trees with machetes to make way for the signal for La Escuelita’s radio station. We spent a hot afternoon up on the hillside above the barrio, carving bits off what turned to at first to be the wrong tree. A good hour was spent dangling a massive branch on ropes over a chicken coop and trying to dismember it without killing the poultry below. It was as fun as it sounds, with me predicting regularly and loudly that at least one of us would die. We weren’t ever quite sure if Hiraldo said ‘let go of the rope’ or ‘don’t let go of the rope’ to me but he ended up tumbling a good thirty feet down the hillside into the corrugated iron chicken coop. I thought I’d killed him but in the end he brushed himself off and barely said a word. Venezuelans are obviously tough. I can’t wait to finish the job next week.
I’m not sure how much of this counts as research but for me getting to spend time with an amazing group of people has been a great introduction to Pueblo Nuevo. Having spent a year immersed in theory and methodology I am now meeting some of the people who are actually building the Revolution with their own hands. Now I only hope I can contribute something while I am here.